It was a night teeming with premieres, local and global. But that's nothing out of the ordinary when the ensemble on hand is the new music-minded California EAR Unit and the venue is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a kind of last bastion for contemporary sounds in the area.
Most significantly, it was Wednesday night that the Unit unveiled the exhilarating "Zilver," a newly commissioned piece by Louis Andriessen. The iconoclastic Dutch composer has been considered Europe's wilier, more aggressive answer to the American minimalists. He has dogmatically, even politically, inducted jazz and rock concepts into the concert world.
That lineage was detectable in "Zilver," wherein both the composer's objective modernism and taste for hurtling energy were in full force. Conductor Rand Steiger steered the work's polymetric gridwork, in which slow and fast parts and long-noted and staccato articulation worked together and in frictional counterpoint.
Rarely is there a fixed, single vantage point here: The inner voices of strings and winds are framed, punctuated and sabotaged by stabbing accents from the mallet instruments and piano. And therein lies the rugged beauty. Paradoxically, this is seductively mechanistic music, in which the rhythmic riddles it presents go beyond mere head music.
Less insistent in its methods, but also effective, William Albright's "Rustles of Spring" is a colorful, almost anecdotal, portrayal of spring as a transition period, a season of tender and unpredictable emotions. A "Wedding Dance" sounds more like a restless dervish dance and "For FSA"--for his late father--is a bittersweet lament that resists its own attempts at settling into a given key.
Also on the program were Unit member Arthur Jarvinen's opening piece, "Clean Your Gun," and Mary C. Wright's "Sunflower," in which the musicians were cannily upstaged by a floral specimen. A potted sunflower assumes center stage, set against a closed curtain, while Robin Lorentz issued disjointed narration over little cloudbursts of faux-naive musical activity.
Joan Tower's eerie/lovely "Wings," revised for alto saxophone and performed with tape, with guest soloist John Sampen, produced pure, rounded tones not necessarily related to jazz at all.
It was a night when most everything worked, some things worked wonders, and, generally speaking, new music had a field day.